Overstaying Our Welcome

Fish-smell-quoteProverbs 25:17 NIV

“Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house— too much of you, and they will hate you.”

It seems an odd proverb, but we have all been there. We have experienced people who overstay their welcome. That person who just seems to always be there. Perhaps sometimes we are those people. But our parent advise still stands, “Don’t overstay your welcome.” because as Benjamin Franklin said, “Fish and houseguests smell after three days.”

But why would this be included in the Bible. Doesn’t God call us to be involved in one another’s lives? Doesn’t the Bible tell us to show hospitality? Of course it does. Jesus spoke of those who invited strangers in as doing it to him when he gave the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. The writer of Hebrews tells us that through hospitality some have entertained angels. (Hebrews 13:2) This is how we are to be involved in one another’s lives. Then how does this fit?

After some thought, I have been struck by three clear situations where this happens. The first example comes from a friends experience.  She was friends with someone for years. As the years went on, her friend would need help here or there, and she would readily extend the needed help. After some time the request slowly would become more demanding both financially and time-consuming. She would still do what she could, but was not able to help with everything her friend wanted as she would try to explain, usually to no avail. Finally it seemed that she would only be contacted by her friend when something was needed, and that seemed the constant situation. It made things worse that her friend did not seem to make any effort to accomplish things on her own or to seem to turn to anyone else. Eventually she just found herself run down, frustrated and resenting her friend. She would not answer the phone when the caller ID said it was her friend. She went out of her way too avoid her friend. Her friend had overstayed her welcome.

For the second and third situations I reference the television show “Everybody Loves Raymond.” In the show we have our title character, Ray Barone, living with his wife and children. Across the street lives his parents and his older brother. Now at initial view this seems convenient, but as the story plays out we begin to see it is not such a wonderful idea. You see, his family does not understand the concept of boundaries. Every time Ray and his wife, Debra, turn around his family is there. It is in the characters of his father and mother that we find the second and third examples of those who overstay their welcome.

In the first of these two cases, it was not unusual for the family to come down stairs or to come home and find Ray’s father, Frank, sitting on the couch watching TV and eating something he found in the refrigerator. You see Frank simply viewed their house as an extension of his own. If he was frustrated at home with something he could let himself into their house as though it was simply going into another room in his own house.  He made himself at home without any consideration of Ray and Debra.

The second of these two cases is demonstrated in his Mother, Marie, who simply believes that she always knows what is best for everyone else. We always find her showing Debra how to really be a good wife and mother. It may be comments about how clean (or unclean) she believes her house to be. It may be critiques of Debra’s cooking. Other times she openly shares her advise and disapproval on how Ray or Debra are raising the children.  She feels that her advise and input is always needed and wanted.  In each of these we have people who have made themselves so comfortable at the other persons house that they have overstayed their welcome.

So we have three types of people who set foot in their neighbor’s house one too many times.  The first being the person who is always needy.  The second being the person who treats everyone else’s belongings as their own.  The third being the person who always thinks they know best and insist on sharing their advise with others.

So what Solomon is telling us in this proverb is that we are not to behave this way.  That is to say, we are not to drive others to hate us by overstaying our welcome.  So why is this found in the Bible.  First, it is simply good advise.  If people hate you, they certainly aren’t going to be there if you genuinely need help.

But the message to believers goes beyond this.  We are Christ witnesses in this world.  But what good is a witness if no one wants to be around them.  So we read this proverb along with 1 Peter 2:12 where we read, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” You see what others think of us as believers will reflect on what we believe.  If we have become someone who is hated, then can we really be surprised when people have no time for what we believe.  Overstaying our welcome undermines our witness.

So the proverb is a lesson to each of us, but before I leave, I need to be reminded that this proverb is not a license for me to simply dismiss people because they overstay their welcome.  While we are reminded to not overstay our welcome with others, we are called to show patience with others, including those who may overstay their welcome with us.

Brian Olson is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ having worked with both youth and adults.

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